Rising land and maintenance costs have led to shrinking landscapes around the home. That means there is less lawn to maintain, but it restricts the plants that can be used in the landscape.
The most obvious restriction is plant size. Instead of selecting a plant that needs constant pruning, choose a smaller, slower-growing one that can maintain its natural shape. Too often, gardeners butcher and disfigure large or fast-growing plants to keep them within the confines of a small space.
I frequently see one-gallon, 12-inch tall ligustrum planted a couple of feet from the front steps or walkway. Most lugustrums will get 8 to 12 feet tall and at least half as wide. Can you imagine the nightmare in keeping this plant from engulfing your home?
The height of plants is also a consideration when it comes to overhead restrictions such as power lines or trellises or arbors.
When houses are close together, there is little sun between them, so you need to consider which plants do best in shade. Many plants do well in both sun and shade while others prefer full shade or full sun.
A plant's visual fabric or texture determines whether it will look right in a restricted area. In small spaces, fine-texture plants are recommended. They give the illusion that they are farther away, while plants with a bold, coarse texture tend to dominate confined areas.
Each plant has its own shape or growing habit. Some are stiff and upright, some are loose and irregular, while others are low and spreading. It is important to select a plant that will best fit into the shape of the space. For example, even though a dogwood is a small tree, it has a horizontal branching pattern. If placed too close to a sidewalk, its branches may be a constant maintenance problem.
When choosing color for use in a small space, keep variety to a minimum. Too many colors in a confined area result in chaos and disorder. Be aware of the surroundings and background of the plant beds. Keep in mind the color of the adjacent wall and the color of any other plants that will be blooming at the same time.
Certain colors can affect the way you feel. For example, red, yellow and orange can make you feel warmer, and blue, green and violet can make you feel cooler.
If you are staring at a blank area behind your house thinking that it's too small for anything, just remember the Japanese. For centuries they have transformed tiny spaces into beautiful, tranquil gardens. The same thing is possible with your leftover piece of property. With such a variety of plants available to today's homeowner, there is an appropriate plant for virtually every situation.
Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call 821-2349, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.